Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir


“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.” 

Andy Weir's The Martian has received a lot of buzz since its release, generating a media-circus of attention, making best-sellers lists and highly praised by many readers. Whenever a book garners this much hype and attention, I tend to remain skeptical concerning it's true merit. So, I kept this novel on my radar, unwilling to conform to the general reading public, since everyone and their grandmother seemed to own a copy. As an unabashed science-fiction geek, I was still mildly interested in what all the hoopla was about but remained convinced that with such high expectations, it  the novel would more than likely turn out to be a huge disappointment. Nonetheless, curiosity got the better of me when it was announced that Hollywood was planning a movie adaptation starring Matt Damon, a bunch of other great actors and directed by Ridley Scott. I may not be the biggest Matt Damon fan but having Ridley Scott attached to the project was enough for me to finally break down and give into peer pressure. This is the guy who directed such science-fiction masterpieces like Alien and Blade-Runner! Plus, he's getting up there in age and if he was willing to come out of semi-retirement to bring this novel to life on the big screen, he must have seen something special and worthwhile in it.

Well, what do you know...Ridley Scott recognizes another great story containing cinematic qualities that should be suited to his particular style of film-making. If Alien is any indication, this is a director who has a great visual sense and knows exactly how to create a dreadful atmosphere of thrilling suspense within a confined setting. He is perfect for the job because The Martian caters to his artistic sensibilities: a story about an astronaut named Mark Watney, who finds himself stranded on Mars due to a freak accident that occurs during a surveying mission, left behind by his crew because they think he is dead. With no one else to rely on but himself, Watney must use his wits, skills, engineering training and scientific knowledge to survive. Limited supplies, short on food, unable to communicate with NASA, he finds himself all alone on the red planet. If the harsh environment of Mars doesn't kill him first, starving to death surely will. The comparison to Defoe's Robinson Crusoe seems inevitable but Weir's novel does not have a socio-political agenda, nor does he dabble in allegory--his main intention here is to tell an absorbing piece of science-fiction, which he definitely delivers. The narrative is written largely as an epistolary, taking on the form of journal entries by Mark Watney who documents his day-to-day activities on Mars, which largely include brainstorming survival strategies, performing risky experiments and dealing with life-threatening catastrophes. He also spends an exorbitant amount of time watching re-runs of 70's sitcoms that were left by one of the other crew members and listening to disco music that drives him up the wall. How else is a  guy supposed to unwind after spending an exhausting day alone on a planet that is trying to constantly kill him, without access to Netflix? Weir also presents a third person narration, providing different perspectives of members working at NASA who discover Mark is still alive and now must try and figure out a way to bring him home. By cutting back and forth between Watney's personal account of his exploits on mars and with NASA, keeps the story from becoming too solipsistic, adding another dimension to the narrative arc.

Watney's self-deprecating personality is refreshing, often creating moments of comedic relief, which help to counterbalance the more serious elements of the novel. He realizes that his chances of survival are slim and that death is imminent, but he manages to maintain a wry sense of amusement about the whole situation. I hope the film adaptation manages to keep the humor of the novel intact.

The amount of scientific research that must have went into this novel is astonishing. Even though it takes on certain characteristics of hardcore-science fiction where the author bombards the reader with technical details, relying heavily upon math, physics and chemistry as a narrative device (all subjects that gave me the most trouble in school), the novel still remains accessible. It is not important to fully understand the exact science being described, since Weir does an admirable job of conveying the primary essence of these scientifc technicalities. Who would have thought that reading about potato farming on Mars could be so interesting?

I am glad to report that my initial assumptions were wrong and The Martian is well deserving of its favorable prestige. Having read my fair share of science-fiction that take place on Mars--Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy come to mind--Andy Weir puts a unique spin on the colonization of a distant planet story-line, proving himself to be a capable writer who succeeds in telling a highly entertaining story, holding me in suspense and gripping my attention until the very last page.


2 comments:

  1. Glad to see you liked this one. It's been my radar for a little while now and has now moved up to my to read list, after this and a couple other reviews by some blogging colleagues.

    You bring up Robinson Crusoe - have you ever seen the sometimes cheesy yet still charming "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" from back in the day?

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    1. Cool, I hope you enjoy it.

      No, I actually haven't seen that movie before but I really want to now after looking it up on imdb and finding out that it stars the amazing Adam West! I love me some Sci-Fi B-movies. :)

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